Monday, April 5, 2010

SERIES 1 - Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers: April 5, 7, 8

PNC Park

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Opening Day. For the last 17 years, it's been the brightest spot in most of the Pirates seasons during that time. The one time of the year when the Bucs are equals with the rest of the league. If the Pirates win, it's usually the only time of the season they hold the division lead. A sellout crowd. Exciting stuff.

This year, the Pirates are opening their season at PNC for the first time in 5 years. Since that 9-2 loss to the Brewers on April 4, 2005, the Bucs are 3-1 on Opening Day, winning their last 3 in a row. Keep that streak going. In addition, the last time the Bucs faced the Dodgers, they took 3 games of a 4 game series, including the 11-1 utter domination near-complete game for Zach Duke on September 28, 2009, in which Andy LaRoche had the game of his career, with 4 RBIs and 4 runs, 2 of which were homers. Duke will be the starting pitcher for Opening Day this year.

The Dodgers are coming off of a season where they swept the Cardinals in 3 games in the NLDS, only to fall to the Phillies in 5 games in the NLCS. Still, they had the best regular season record in the NL last year, and while they lost a few players through free-agency, there's no reason to believe they won't be in the playoffs at the end of this season, as their only real competition in the NL West is Arizona, with an outside chance for Colorado to make a push.

The Pirates, meanwhile, are coming off their 3rd consecutive season in the NL Central's basement. While there's certainly the possibility that this team could extend that streak to four years in a row, it's possible for them to finish fifth or even fourth in the division. Even optimistically, I don't see them doing better than that unless several players have breakout years.

With this team, more so than teams in previous years, there's a bit of mystery as to how they will perform. Almost all the vestiges of the previous management have been removed, for good or for ill. Only 4 players remain that came up under that system (Maholm, Duke, Doumit, and Andrew McCutchen). Doumit may be dumped later in the season, but that remains to be seen.

On the minor league side of things, the new management's attempts to rebuild the disaster that was the McClatchy/Littlefield minor league system are slowly coming to fruition. Pedro Alvarez will almost definitely see playing time in the Majors this year, probably sometime between June and the All-Star break in mid-July. José Tábata and Brad Lincoln may also see some playing time, although this is not nearly as definite as it is with Alvarez and will probably only happen if there are a lot of injuries on the team.

It's an exciting time to be a Pirates fan, as they seem to be on the right track for the first time in a long while. There are no huge contracts with dead-end players, which is always a plus. This excitement will always be tempered in the fans' minds, however, until the Bucs finally win that 81st game. Probably not gonna happen this year, but there's actually some hope for the future now.

Proposed Lineups

Vicente Padilla will start for the Dodgers, while Zach Duke will get the nod for the Bucs.

1-R. Furcal SS
2-R. Martin C
3-A. Ethier RF
4-M. Ramirez LF
5-M. Kemp CF
6-J. Loney 1B
7-C. Blake 3B
8-B. DeWitt 2B
9-V. Padilla P

1-A. Iwamura 2B
2-A. McCutchen CF
3-G. Jones RF
4-R. Doumit C
5-L. Milledge LF
6-J. Clement 1B
7-A. LaRoche 3B
8-Z. Duke P
9-R. Cedeño SS

Starting pitchers for the next two games in the series are expected to be Ohlendorf and Maholm versus Kershaw and Billingsley, respectively.

Let's Go Bucs.

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